Blue Plaques

ROGERS, Dr Joseph (1821-1889)

Plaque erected in 1996 by English Heritage at 33 Dean Street, Soho, London, W1D 4PW, City of Westminster

All images © English Heritage


Health Care Reformer


Medicine, Philanthropy and Reform


DR. JOSEPH ROGERS 1821-1889 Health Care Reformer lived here



Dr Joseph Rogers was a health care campaigner whose reforms were a significant step towards the provision of a public health service. He lived and worked at 33 Dean Street in Soho from 1851 until 1885.


Rogers set up his own surgery at number 33 in 1853, but his growing practice was destroyed in 1854–5 by the effects of a cholera epidemic. In 1855 he was appointed medical officer to the Strand Union Workhouse in Cleveland Street, Fitzrovia, where he was appalled by the disgraceful state of medical provision for the poor.

For the rest of his life he led a determined campaign for improvements in conditions for the sick and for medical officers. His successes, achieved with the backing of medical journals such as The Lancet, included the founding of the Association for the Improvement of London Workhouse Infirmaries, which was launched at a dinner held at number 33 in 1866.

Drawing of scene from Oliver Twist in which he famously asks for more porridge
Detail from the original frontispiece to Charles Dickens’ ‘Oliver Twist’ (1838), which is believed to have been based on the Cleveland Street workhouse where Dr Joseph Rogers later worked as a medical officer © Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images


With the support of Charles Dickens and Florence Nightingale, the association’s lobbying led in 1867 to the Metropolitan Poor Bill, which provided 20 hospitals for workhouse inmates. These were in effect the first public social hospitals built in London, and were absorbed into the National Health Service when it was founded by Aneurin ‘Nye’ Bevan in 1949.

In 1868 Rogers helped to found the Poor Law Medical Officers’ Association, of which he served as first Chairman, and in 1872 he was appointed to the Westminster Infirmary in nearby Poland Street, a post he held until his retirement in 1886.

On Rogers’ death in 1889, The Lancet likened him to the prison reformer John Howard:

See the comparatively comfortable and well appointed workhouse infirmaries, and think of the reeking dens they were. Compare them thirty – nay twenty – years ago and now, and confess that if Howard was the Hercules of prison reform, as truly was Rogers the Hercules of workhouse reform.

Read more about Dr Joseph Rogers at the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

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